Parenting is a honorable and difficult task, made even more complicated by a world that puts little value in raising children, much less pointing them to Christ and his gospel. Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger have drawn from their own experience as parents to provide the church with a helpful book titled Equipping for Life: A Guide for New, Aspiring & Struggling Parents.
The Amazon description states the motivation behind this new book:
Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger do not call themselves parenting experts, professional speakers, or professional counselors, but a mom and dad, a Christian couple who believe in mentoring and making disciples. They love God and His Word, and what He says about marriage and the family. This book is written from the perspectives of both parents, working together, reflecting the partnership they believe is so vital to parenting.
Here is an excerpt from chapter 7, “First Things First: Helping your child grow in character.”
Rather than focusing on good grades or athletic success, invest the bulk of your efforts on helping your child to develop character. What do we mean by “character”? Essentially, character is who a man or woman truly is in his or her heart, exemplified in what he or she does when no one’s looking. Character means integrity, a stable core of conviction that isn’t easily shaken by peer pressure, cultural influences, or varying circumstances. It is constant.
As you seek to shape your child’s character, which values will you wish to promote? Is it serving God, loving others, developing courage and conviction, and standing up for what they believe? If so, what will your strategy be to teach and reinforce those values? Character isn’t formed by default or by chance. What’s more, as mentioned, children tend to imitate their parents’ behavior, so we’ll want to make sure that we ourselves are people of integrity.
How do we accomplish this?
First, we must acknowledge we can’t develop character in our children unaided by the Holy Spirit. The burden is beyond measure; we can’t do this work in our own strength. The Spirit must do his work in our children as they enter their own relationship with God, striving and aspiring themselves to be men and women of integrity and moral excellence. Paul encourages believers to “walk by the Spirit” and be “led by the Spirit” and goes on to write that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” He adds, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” Elsewhere, he urges believers to be “filled with the Spirit.” Yet in another place, he writes that “those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” and adds, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
What this catena of Scripture passages on the Spirit shows is that it is he who produces in us what is pleasing to God. As we walk with him, are led by him, live in Him, keep in step with him, and are filled with him, we’ll set our mind on spiritual things, and the Spirit of the risen Christ will infuse our mortal bodies with supernatural strength to surmount our sinful nature. In this way, we’ll be able to please God and do all things through him who strengthens us. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful” (1 Cor. 10:23). Again, the apostle strikes the balance beautifully when he urges believers, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Our children should be encouraged to actively “work out their salvation,” trusting that God is at work in them, both to have the resolute will and the actual ability to live the life God wants them to live. This is true for us as adults, of course, and applies in the same way to our children. If you have successfully introduced your child to Christ, or they have received Him and become a child of God, their spiritual lives can be nurtured by teaching them from Scripture about the work of the Spirit along the lines of the above-cited passages.
You may even want to let them read the preceding paragraphs. You could also write these Scripture passages on a piece of paper, or in an email, and give it to them to dwell on or, better still, to memorize. The last thing we’ll want to condition our children to do is live the Christian life in their own strength. This will only lead to failure and frustration, if not despair.
In large part, helping our children develop character entails inculcating virtues in our children. To break down the matter in more practical terms, children’s sinfulness is borne out in several ways: they typically lack self-control and lose their temper, tend to be disobedient (or at least, shall we say, have a mind of their own, redefining the terms of parental instruction), may be lazy or lack a proper work ethic, and are undiscerning and naïve, if not downright foolish, like we once were (if we’re honest). If you want more specifics, work through this list from Proverbs. It was written to instruct young men, but the principles apply to boys and girls alike. Here’s a goldmine of virtues parents can seek to instill in their young children so that when they’re old they will not depart from them:
- Diligence and industriousness (6:6–11; 11:27; 12:24; 13:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:24; 20:4, 13; 21:5; 22:13; 26:13–16)
- Justice (11:1; 16:11; 17:23; 20:10, 23; 31:8–9)
- Kindness (11:17)
- Generosity (11:24; 19:6)
- Self-control, particularly of speech (12:18; 13:3; 21:23) and temper (14:17, 29; 15:18; 16:32; 19:11; see also 25:28)
- Righteousness (12:21, 28; 14:34)
- Truthfulness and honesty (12:22; 16:13; 24:26)
- Discretion in choosing friends (13:20; 18:24), particularly a spouse (18:22; 31:10–31)
- Caution and prudence (14:16; 27:12)
- Gentleness (15:1, 4)
- Contentment (15:16–17; 16:8; 17:1)
- Integrity of character (15:27; 28:18)
- Humility (16:19; 18:12; 22:4)
- Graciousness (16:24)
- Forthrightness (rather than duplicity; 16:30; 17:20)
- Restraint (17:14, 27–28; 18:6–7; 29:20)
- Faithfulness in friendship (17:17) and otherwise (28:20)
- Purity (20:9; 22:11)
- Vigorous pursuit of what is good and right (20:29)
- Skillfulness in work (22:29)
- Patience (25:15)
How do you go about instilling these virtues in your children? Start with yourself. You must put a priority on developing character. You can even verbalize this by telling your children that while you rejoice in their prowess at basketball or ballet, even winning and achieving, you value even more their integrity in dealing with others (e.g. “I liked how you encouraged the other players and didn’t brag about yourself”). After a while, it may come about that they value what you value because they innately want to please you and tend to imitate and emulate your values.